Community. Building.

Avatarwp-user-avatar wp-user-avatar-96 photo by Darenda Marvin

For commercial and retail developers, leasing and layout might seem like the kind of priorities that exclude all other considerations. But the most successful operators know better. They understand that the role of the community in commercial and retail development is much more important than some might suspect. Connecting with and contributing to the surrounding community isn’t always easy, but it’s what elevates the best retail environments. The best developers make a thoughtful and concerted effort to build and sustain those connections. They understand that when executed well and with care and consideration for the needs of both tenants and local residents, retail spaces can do more than just serve the local community; they can truly become a part of it.

Different strokes

The power of community connections holds true regardless of whether the retail development in question is a new build or an infill development, which may or may not be a real estate redevelopment that involves the adaptive reuse of buildings that have reached the end of their life cycle. The approach to community building requires different strategies and tactics depending on the nature and scope of the development project.

New builds

As a general rule, ground-up new builds are easier, both because there are fewer logistical challenges and more design flexibility, but also because area residents tend to be more excited about what’s coming. They want that new grocery option or coffee shop. Selling the community on the benefits is oftentimes less of a heavy lift. But ground-up projects often mean coordinating with another developer, perhaps a residential developer or a company that is already building in the community. In those cases, marrying your architectural style and carefully considering other developers’ branding, signage, design, and development choices is crucial for creating a space that looks and feels cohesive. Balancing tenant/developer and resident priorities may require both creativity and finesse. In one notable example, a master developer had set aside a large buffer area along the roadway with a sizable amount of landscape material. Addressing tenant concerns about visibility meant working with that developer to cluster some of that material in a way that would open up sight lines for the tenant while preserving the efficacy of the buffer zone for the neighboring community.


With infill projects, retail developers may need to be more cautious and solicitous in their approach and public presentations to the local community. WMG invests a great deal of time and energy working on engagement with residents, fostering open and honest dialogue with neighbors. We even schedule personal sit-downs with company executives, meeting in person in local homes or community centers. We frequently set up a dedicated email address for entire areas and make sure those communications are monitored by a range of different in-house professionals who can answer specific questions and address concerns about everything from lighting to parking. Providing community members with names and faces and openly sharing information in a candid way can be enormously impactful. The goal is to engage in a way that is genuine, respectful of concerns, and collaborative when it comes to seeking solutions. The most successful real estate developers don’t shy away from that engagement. They don’t sit in the back of a room and let a consultant run a meeting; they show up, stand up, and take community feedback seriously.

Consideration and compromise

Picking tenants, layout, and design choices that meet the needs of the community creates a mutually beneficial dynamic for both retailers and local residents. Striking a balance between building a synergistic tenant roster and delivering on community preferences often means making thoughtful compromises. That might mean listening to anchor tenant preferences about co-tenancy or parking, but can also mean making design and development decisions with community priorities in mind. WMG has worked with tenants and community leaders to make design changes that allow tenants like gas stations or convenience stores to seamlessly fit into the aesthetic of the local community, choices that make it easier for hesitant communities to support the project. In another high-profile example, we added lights and a row of mature trees to transform a parked-car-lined back side of the development into an attractive buffer for the adjacent community. The goal is to consider thoughtful and strategic compromises and concessions to make sure a retail development property fits not just the architectural and development tenor of a community, but also its civic and social priorities.

Think like a customer

Because user-friendly retail developments are more popular and frequented by local residents, the best developers approach their work with the customer experience at the top of their minds. They think about everything from parking and traffic flow to dumpster locations and drive-thru dynamics. At WMG, we like to involve team members in various roles on every project to get a wide variety of real-world perspectives—not just on design, but from the point of view of people who shop and frequent places like that every day. Our goal is to see things as tenants and also as members of the community. We spend a lot of time thinking about these elements because we know that ease of use and a positive community experience are some of the best predictors of long-term retail center success.

Meaningful and sustainable community impact

Community building matters because, while the bottom line might be how retail success is judged, that bottom line is entirely dependent on the community of people who frequent the center and spend their time and their money supporting its tenants. We see that impact in social media comments and positive reviews from happy community members, as well as in repeat business from tenants who had their own positive experiences working with us. The connections between people and places can feel very personal—and that resonates with members of the WMG team. There’s a reason why a central piece of our mission and vision is making lasting positive impacts on the communities we serve. If there is one consistent thread when it comes to building projects that are connected to communities, it’s that these are connections that flow both ways, benefiting both tenants and communities in ways that resonate and last. When it comes to serving communities with the developments you help bring to life, success relies as much on people and connections as brick and mortar or stone and steel.